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Seafood Cookbook


Great Nutrition

Seafood can be good for your health! Overall, seafood is low in fat and supplies many vitamins and minerals. Nutrition experts now recommend that you eat seafood two or more times a week. One reason for this is due to the type of fat found in seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids--the polyunsaturated fats found in seafood may help lower blood cholesterol levels and therefore may help lower the risk of heart disease.
To enjoy these nutritious benefits, make seafood a regular part of your eating plan; include seafood several times a week.

Thawing Fish and Shellfish

The best way to thaw fish or shellfish is to leave it in its wrappings and thaw it in the refrigerator or in cold water. Thawing at room temperature can cause sogginess and loss of texture. Defrost just until portions separate easily. Drain well and blot dry with paper towels before using. Many fish and shellfish need not be thawed before cooking.

Buying and Cooking Shellfish

The freshness of shellfish depends on how well they’re handled. If they’re alive, you know they’re fresh. Shellfish that have died naturally won’t necessarily make you sick, but their meat spoils so rapidly it’s wise to discard them.

Amount to buy:

  • Shrimp in shell...............................½ pound
  • Shrimp, shelled..............................1/3 pound
  • Oysters in or out of the shell......5 or 6 oysters
  • Clams in or out of the shell.........4 to 6 clams
  • Crabs in shell............................Size and variety vary so much
    you need to discuss number to buy with the market person
  • Crabs, shelled......................1/4 to 1/3 pound

Shellfish overcook quickly, so watch carefully as you cook them and remove them from the heat just as soon as they’re done. Add cooked shellfish to hot dishes at the last minute, just to heat through.

The flesh of shrimp and crabs turn from translucent to opaque when cooked. To test, cut a shrimp in half.

Remove oysters and clams from the heat as soon as the shells barely open. Shucked oysters are done when the edges curl.

How to steam crustaceans: You’ll need a steamer or a large pan with an inside rack that sits at least 2 inches above pan bottom. Pour 1 inch water into pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Set shellfish on rack and tightly cover pan. When steam begins to escape from under lid, reduce heat to medium and cook until the meat tests done. Remove shellfish immediately and immerse briefly in cold water to stop cooking.

How to steam live oysters or clams: For up to 3 dozen oysters or 5 pounds mussels or clams, pour about 1/4 inch water into a 5 to 7 quart pan. Add shellfish (oysters with cup side down), cover, and boil over medium-high heat just until shells open.

Buying and Cooking Fish

When selecting fish, scales should be bright with a sheen. The flesh should be firm and elastic.; it will spring back when touched. The odor should be fresh and mild. The eyes should be bright, full and protrude from the head. The gills should be pinkish red and free from slime.

How much to buy per serving:

  • Whole or drawn fish -- allow about 1 pound per serving
  • Dressed fish -- ½-3/4 pound
  • Fish steaks -- ½ pound
  • Fish fillets -- 1/4 - 1/3 pound

How to Prepare: Fish can be baked, broiled, grilled, fried, steamed, and poached. Moist heat methods are recommended for leaner type fish. Overcooking and cooking at too high a temperature are the most common problems in cooking fish - they cause the fish to be dry, toughen the meat, and destroy the flavor.

Checking for doneness: Pierce the thickest part of the fish with a fork, and twist the fork; most fish will flake easily when done. The flesh will lose its transparency and become opaque.

Buying and Storing Fish

Whole or Round. This form is the fish as it comes from the water, scales and all. To cook it, you must at least eviscerate, scale, and dress it yourself. Fish tends to be least expensive in whole form, but remember that, on average only 45 percent of it is edible meat.

Drawn. It is possible to buy whole fish that are already eviscerated or “drawn.” These are about 48 percent edible. However, you must still scale, dress, and , if necessary, cut up the fish yourself.

Dressed or Pan-dressed. A dressed fish is s whole fish that has been drawn and scaled; usually, it has also had its fins and often its head and tail removed. Dressed fish are ready to cook; they contain about 67 percent edible meat.

Chunks & Steaks. These pieces are cross-section slices of a dressed large fish. A chunk is usually 4 to 6 inches thick; a steak is 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Because the only bone is a piece of backbone, these cuts are about 84 percent edible. They’re ready to cook as purchased.

Fillets. The most common form of fish available, fresh or frozen, fillets are the fleshy sides of the fish, cut away from the backbone and ribs.

They’re practically boneless. A “butterfly fillet” is a double fillet formed by both sides of the fish, still joined by the uncut flesh and skin of the belly. A single fillet is just one side of the fish and is generally skinless. Both butterfly and single fillets are almost 100 percent edible.


Fish is tender, so avoid overcooking it, which will make it dry and tough. Cook until fish flakes easily with a fork. To test doneness, insert a fork at an angle into the thickest part of the fish and twist gently. The fish will flake easily when done. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. for food safety reasons.


Shrimp can be purchased with or without shells. Shrimp that you buy may be light gray, pink or red. The color is not an indication of its freshness, only the type of water from which the shrimp was harvested. All types of shrimp turn pink once they have been cooked.
Shrimp should have a mild odor and firm texture when you purchase it. Store shrimp in the refrigerator and use within 2-3 days after purchasing. Shrimp may be frozen raw in the shell or cooked and peeled for longer storage. One pound of shrimp in the shell will yield only about one-half pound after peeling. It is important to devein shrimp before or after cooking, using a toothpick or a pointed knife.


Live clams, oysters and mussels are sold fresh in the shell, fresh shucked or frozen. If they are bought in the shell, they should be alive with the shell tightly closed. If they are fresh, any partly opened shells will close tightly when tapped. Shucked shellfish should be plump, shiny and fresh-smelling and come with little or no liquor (liquid).


Crabs when sold fresh and uncooked should be alive and lively. Cooked crabs have a bright red shell. Soft-shell crabs, which are blue crabs that have shed their shell should have a bluish-gray color. Cooked crab meat should be clear white meat with touches of pink and little or no odor. Use crabmeat within a day of purchase.


You’ll find great variety in the size of scallops that are available in North Carolina. The more common are the large sea scallops, which have a sweeter more delicate flavor. Bay scallops are usually more tender. The types can be used interchangeably although cooking times will vary.
Scallops should be practically free of liquor (liquid), creamy pink in color and have a slightly sweet odor. Rinse them well before cooking, as sand accumulates in the crevices. Store them loosely covered in the coldest part of the refrigerator and use within a day or two.


Like their salty water kin, fresh water fish are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients. When you are buying, storing,
and preparing fresh water fish use the same techniques as applied to ocean fish.

*Note: There are a wide variety of fish and shellfish to
choose from. Most of the recipes in this book will allow you to interchange species.



NCDA&CS Markets Division, Seafood Marketing Office, John M. Aydlett, Manager
Mailing Address:P.O. Box 2066, Elizabeth City, NC 27909
Physical Address:1205 McPherson St., Elizabeth City, NC 27909
Phone: (252) 331-4773; FAX: (252) 331-4775